Touring Colorado ghost towns: my visit to St. Elmo

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photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

Over the Labor Day weekend, we journeyed up into the mountains west of Buena Vista, Colorado to find two famous Colorado ghost towns. In the morning we visited St. Elmo, and in the afternoon we drove all the way to Tin Cup. In today’s post, I’ll feature pics from our stop in St. Elmo…

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

The surprising thing about the ghost town known as St. Elmo, is that it isn’t really a ghost town – not technically. Every building is owned by someone and used as vacation cottages or rentals. There is even a general store, and a functioning hotel!

photo credit: Lupe Felix

That’s me and my daughter in front of the St. Elmo hotel.

Here’s a better shot of the hotel building…

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

Pretty darn good shape for a ghost town!

St. Elmo was founded in the year 1880 as a hub for several nearby silver and gold mines.

At its peak, St. Elmo had about 2000 residents. When the mines were eventually mined out, St. Elmo waned and by the 1950’s it was all but abandoned.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

Today, St. Elmo is a mecca for tourists… some are site-seers like me, but most are people 4-wheeling in Jeeps and ATV’s and fishing in nearby Chalk Creek.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

I read somewhere that St. Elmo currently has 8 year-round residents.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

The town was at its peak in the 1890s, when it included a telegraph office, general store, town hall, 5 hotels, saloons, dancing halls, a newspaper office, and a school house. The Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad line ran through St. Elmo. There were 150 patented mine claims within the area.

– from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Elmo,_Colorado

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

Most of these buildings had name signs and dates on them. Many were dated from 1880-1882 – about the same age as my old house!

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

There were also signs that warned tourists NOT to look in the windows of the old buildings because they are all privately owned.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

Not allowed to peek in the windows of old houses and buildings? That’s like torture to an old house lover!

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

I respected the rules but got as close as humanly possible…

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

In 2002, there was a catastrophic fire that claimed several buildings on the south side of town, including the original town hall.

A historic preservation group is working to rebuild the town hall as it would have looked in the 1880’s…

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

This is one of the few buildings open to the public, so I ducked inside and snapped this pic:

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

Notice the jail cell in the back of the hall. That’s where they put the bad boys (well, that’s how I explained it to my son).

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

The residential areas of St. Elmo actually branch out in different directions to the southwest, northwest and east.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

photo credit: Lupe Felix

(That’s me and my kiddos in front of an old two-story log house. My three-year old daughter was thrilled to be in “Elmo’s town”.)

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

The photo above is a view of the southwest wing of the town, looking northeast.

The buildings have that abandoned old western town feel, but they are all actually carefully maintained.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

The locals – all 8 of them – know what a good thing they have going there.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

St. Elmo is a popular tourist destination and is fairly accessible in the summer months so by the time we left at noon, it was crawling with people and there were hardly any parking spots left!

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

We got there early enough that I was able to take pictures without too many people walking through the shots.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

But picture hoards of cars, SUVs, ATVs, and dirt bikes just to the left and right of this house at the edge of town. It was noisy!

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

The general store in town is also a bit of an antique gallery…

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

Unfortunately, there were “NO PHOTOGRAPHS” signs posted inside the general store so I couldn’t take any pictures of the interior without feeling like a shameless tourist. We did, however, purchase a hot dog and hamburger there.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

St. Elmo is a wonderful little place to visit, but I can’t (with a straight face) call it a true “ghost town”.

I mean, how many ghost towns sell hot dogs and rent out four-wheelers?

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

But it is a fun place to visit – even my little monsters enjoyed it!

photo credit: Lupe Felix

For further information and directions to St. Elmo, see here.

~~~

ps………. stay tuned next week for my post on our second Colorado ghost town destination – Tin Cup!

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